Why Are Standardized Tests So Boring?: A Sensitive Subject

It is a guiding principle in test development that stimulus materials and test questions should not upset test-takers. Much like dinner conversation with in-laws, tests should refrain from referencing religion, or sex, or race, or politics --  anything that might provoke a heightened emotional response that could interfere with test-takers’ ability to give their best effort. Attention to “sensitivity” concerns, as they’re known, makes sense conceptually. But in practice, as they shape act...
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Is the ACT a Valid Test?

ACT, Inc. released the results of its 2016 National Curriculum Survey earlier this year. The Survey goes out every three or four years to elementary, middle school, high school, and college teachers, as well as to workforce professionals. It collects information about what respondents are teaching, how they teach it, what they care about, and so forth. It serves as the basis upon which ACT builds its tests. Because the Survey provides a look into both what pre-college students are being t...
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Authentic Learning Requires Authentic Assessment

If project-based learning were to form the core of curricula in American schools, our problems with large-scale standardized testing would become even more pronounced than they are now. This is not a reason to forego project-based learning, of course; rather, it's a reason to find a better way to test. We do need, and will continue to need, large-scale assessments, despite the many dissatisfactions we may have with them at present. Local assessment by itself doesn’t tell us what we need ...
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Function Follows Form

The problems with standardized tests lie less with the content they cover than with their very form – which drives their content and everything else about them. The tests have looked pretty much the way they do ever since the fifties – a bunch of kids all in the same place, bubbling in answers to the same questions, under the same strict time limits, under the watchful gaze of a roving proctor. Replicate across district, state, nation, world. The tests took this form not because it is ...
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Welcome to the Sausage Factory

I used to work for ACT, Inc., designing and developing student assessments. In my final years there, I was Director of the Writing and Communications Literacies group. In one of my last major projects, I headed the team responsible for the revamped ACT Writing Test, which rolled out in 2015. That roll-out was famously botched. ACT Test Development neglected to tend to the basics of scoring the new test; it's partner, Pearson, screwed up the reporting. Students and their families had paid ...
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